Almost two years ago, the birth of my second son changed everything. His birth left me questioning everything I thought I knew. It left me feeling isolated, depressed, lonely, misunderstood and helpless. You can read the full birth story here.
Whilst my story might not seem overly traumatic to someone else, the point is I felt traumatised. I absolutely believe that it isn't what happens during birth that makes it traumatising, but rather how that woman felt in the moment. For example, c-sections are fairly physically traumatising, yet some women feel absolutely amazing and empowered after having one. Why? Because they felt supported, safe and loved during the process.
There's this belief that for birth to be considered traumatic then something absolutely, insanely upsetting must have happened. Because of this attitude, a woman who has experienced a traumatic birth feels her pain isn't justified. She takes that trauma and internalise it and somehow find a way to blame herself. She feels ashamed. Instead of supporting and validating her feelings, society is contributing to the damage.
Then comes the comment "as long as mum and baby are healthy" then a woman should be grateful to the health care providers that were there.
This grinds my gears. Just because you feel your birth was traumatic, doesn't mean you aren't grateful that you and your baby are alive. You can be thankful but still grieve your experience. Just as a car crash victim is grateful to be alive, but is still traumatised by the accident.
Birth trauma is very real and very damaging to a woman and her family.
That one birth experience may haunt her forever. Constantly replaying in her mind. Feelings of anger and jealousy when her friends speak of their amazing birth experience, then hating herself for feeling that way. She may resent her husband for not protecting her. She may feel physically ill visiting the hospital where it all occured. She may even decide never to have any more children. Perhaps, every year on her childs birthday, she may relive the experience, hour by hour. She loses confidence. She loses trust in the health care system. She loses trust in the psychologists that tell her to move on. She feels isolated because her friends can't understand why she's still crying over something that happened months ago. She eventually withdraws, bottles up her pain and carries it around for the rest of her life. Only for it to errupt with every trigger.
If you're reading this and thinking "yes this is so me" then I want you to know, you're not alone, I'm SO sorry you've experienced a traumatic birth and you can heal from this.
My healing journey began by talking to a trusted midwife, the same midwife that delived my first baby. She came to my house and sat with me and listened to my story. I felt validated. I felt like "I'm not crazy, this did happen, and it isn't ok". Being validated is hugely important for healing birth trauma. The more I spoke to understanding people, the more I was validated and the easier it was to tell my story.
My beautiful midwife gave me a book, "How to Heal a Bad Birth" by an amazing Brisbane based organisation, Birth Talk. If you are dealing with birth trauma, please read this book. If you're in Toowoomba I will borrow you a copy!
There's an activity outlined in the book, where you write your birth story and how it made you feel. This was the hardest activity to do. I was so scared of the memories and emotions that would come up. It took me a long time to get the courage, but when I finally did it was a huge weight off my shoulders.
Secondly, I spoke to my student midwife about her perspective of my birth. This was healing also, to see what was going on in that room and to understand why some things may have happened.
Another thing to do is request your medical records from the hospital. It can be hard to face, but I believe it's a big step in processing the whole experience to understand what medically may have happened. It also helps to peice together in your mind a time frame, as things may be very blury when recollecting your story.
Some nights, I would bath with my infant son and imagine how the birth should have been. I would close my eyes and pull him onto my chest, imagining that he had just been born. Recreating that first moment, with love and bliss rather than fear.
Please be kind to yourself, understand that it isn't your fault. It's easy to feel guilty for the things that happened or didn't happen. I felt guilty for months that my son didn't have delayed cord clamping. I felt that somehow it was my fault. To many, it seems insignificant, but to me I felt like I have already failed as a mother within the first hour of his life.
Ultimately, the biggest healing part of my journey was coming to the conclusion that my sons birth needed to happen the way it did. Without that birth experience, I wouldn't have the compassion, empathy and insight into birth trauma. I wouldn't have become a doula. I wouldn't have the ability to connect with and help other women dealing with the same issues.
It took time. It's not something you can heal from over night. Honestly, it's not something you can ever completely heal from.
I sincerely hope that my experience can help someone else.
*Disclaimer* I am not a medical professional. Birth trauma is serious, if you're not coping, please seek help from your GP or mental health professional
Birth Talk Org.